2014 MAZDA3 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: 5-door small hatch
Price: $38,190 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 138kW/250Nm 2.5 4cyl petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 7.5 l/100km
Looking for "one-with-the-lot" in the new Mazda3 range? Look no further than the SP25 Astina.
Sitting atop the three-tier SP25 range, the new Astina revives a name from the old 323 - but instead of being Mazda-speak for hatch, the new Astina is available in both hatch and sedan.
Basically, this model ticks all the option boxes and leaves nothing out. Elsewhere in the range you might like to add a sunroof or safety pack, but the Astina includes both items as standard.
Your only option is $200 extra if you select the rather striking Soul Red metallic paint option, and the choice of auto (tested here) or manual transmission.
That’s on top of the already generous standard feature list you’ll find in other Mazda3 models.
But, $38,190 for the SP25 Astina is a lot of money - particularly when compared to the $20,490 ask of the base model Neo manual.
You’re left wanting for very little, certainly, but now you're in premium pricing territory for a small car. So, how does the Mazda3’s pinnacle model shape up?
- Seven-inch display, Commander control and voice activation with nine-speaker Bose audio, navigation, Pandora, Stitcher, Aha, Facebook and Twitter connectivity.
- Leather seats, steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake.
- Dual-zone climate control air conditioning.
- Proximity key with push-button start.
- Head-up display for speed and navigation info.
- Power sunroof, electric folding mirrors, electric driver’s seat adjustment.
- 308 litre boot, expandable via 60:40 split rear seat.
Look around this cabin and the basic building blocks of the Mazda3 range are in place, and that’s no bad thing with a combination of quality finishes at play.
The build quality appears to be top notch, this car is entirely free of unwanted squeaks and rattles.
Mazda has really excelled with the touch-screen and control-wheel system for the entertainment and communications technology. The menus are clear, its simple to set up and use and is a standout in its class.
The shapely seats are effortlessly comfortable. Power adjustment on the driver's seat makes set-up simple and long hours at the wheel are trouble-free.
Sadly, however, despite the improved accommodation, refinement could be better.
The culprit is road roar once you get away from mirror-smooth surfaces. Sure, it's less than in previous models, but Mazda could do more to quell the din in this up-specced Astina.
The rear is roomy enough to take two with ease, and three on shorter jaunts, though the high hip-line makes it harder for for younger passengers to take in the views outside.
The sweeping roof also cuts access to the rear a little, and the lack of face-level vents for the rear-seat at this price is a bit perplexing.
And while we're pleased to find a bottle-holder in each door, we can’t help but wonder where the map pockets went.
There’s a decent console and glovebox at least, but only a slim selection of storage spots for those loose items you might carry with you.
ON THE ROAD
- 138kW/250Nm naturally aspirated 2.5 litre ‘SkyActiv’ petrol four cylinder.
- Six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic ($2000 extra, as tested).
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension.
- Four-wheel disc brakes: 295 mm vented front, 265mm solid rear rotors
- 18-inch alloy wheels.
- 6.1 l/100km claimed consumption
Thanks to the increased output of the 2.5 litre SkyActive engine in all SP25 models, the Astina gets along more briskly than the lesser 2.0 litre variants. It might not be a hot hatch, but the extra urge is certainly welcomed.
In this latest generation the handling is a little less crisp than the previous model, but around town the SP25 Astina never puts a foot wrong - easy to park, zippy off the lights, and with a crisp compliant ride.
It's not too soft, but even on those 18-inch wheels the Astina is composed through potholes and over speedhumps alike.
You will find the sweeping C-pillar eats into over-shoulder vision around town, but with the Astina’s standard safety tech - like blind-spot assist and cross traffic alert - the effects are somewhat alleviated.
Plus there’s Smart City Brake Support, radar-guided cruise control and auto-high beam headlights for assistance both in and out of town.
The six-speed SkyActiv Drive automatic is a well-sorted transmission. It is tuned for economy and will advance through gears early, but sink the boot in and it will respond swiftly.
For eager drivers there’s also steering wheel-mounted gear-shift paddles - but we found little need to use them, the box will most likely have picked the right gear before you can call it to mind.
It is responsive on the highway, and has all the power you will sensibly need for overtaking or even for a quick fang on a winding road. But get too far onto secondary roads and the road noise can become a bit wearing.
On the upside, the electric steering and idle/stop systems on the Astina work brilliantly, putting some more expensive cars to shame.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.4 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: The Astina scores a full safety-suite including six airbags, ABS brakes, stability and traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic brake assist, hill-launch assist and emergency stop signal.
Front seat belts are height adjustable with load limiting pretensioners. Rear seats are fitted with ISOFIX anchorage points, each seat is fitted with a three-point seatbelt and adjustable head restraints,
The Astina’s i-Activesense package (optional on other models) features radar-guided cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and smart city-brake support.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
While bread-and-butter Mazda3 models play in the mass market, the SP25 Astina starts to cross into premium territory.
The base-model prestige offerings from Audi and BMW can be considered competitors, although the Mazda provides more power to play with. And while they may bring a little more brand cachet, they carry less standard equipment and premium features.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
At nearly $40,000, this Mazda3 occupies a rare patch of turf that Toyota, Nissan, Honda or Mitsubishi just can’t match, particularly when it comes to technology like the i-Activesense technology suite.
At its price though, it's lining up closer to some impressive European metal - like the A3, A-Class and up-spec Golf. And here, despite the Astina's premium features list, the Mazda3 has its work cut out for it.
You’ll have a car every bit as good as the Euros, but you won’t get to dangle a fancy prestige key-logo out of your pocket at dinner parties. That will make sense to some of course (but won’t appeal to all).
As it stands, Mazda's smart SP25 Astina stands as a fitting tree-topper for a range filled with thoroughly good cars.
If you’re chasing something compact but you want it fully loaded, then the Mazda3 SP25 Astina could be just the thing.
It certainly has the style, performance and features, and its debits are few.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Mazda3 Neo - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $20,490
- Mazda3 Neo - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $22,490
- Mazda3 Maxx - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $22,990
- Mazda3 Maxx - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $24,990
- Mazda3 Touring - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $25,490
- Mazda3 Touring - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $27,490
- Mazda3 SP25 - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $25,890
- Mazda3 SP25 - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $27,890
- Mazda3 SP25 GT - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $30,590
- Mazda3 SP25 GT - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $32,590
- Mazda3 SP25 Astina - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $36,190
- Mazda3 SP25 Astina - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $38,190